Russia held massive military exercises in the Black Sea after Nato's decision to reinforce its presence in eastern Europe. President Vladimir Putin said the armed forces had displayed their readiness to defend Russia.
Military exercises held on Thursday (11 February) near the Crimean peninsula involved 88 naval vessels, 8,500 personnel, 900 units of military hardware and 200 aircraft and helicopters, said Russia's Defence Ministry.
At a meeting of military chiefs, Putin declared the exercises a success, and said personnel had "confirmed their readiness to reliably defend Russia's south-western parts, including the Crimean peninsula".
"The practice of conducting such unannounced inspections must be continued," Putin said. "We are seeing that this practice is well proven, allowing [us] to consistently increase the combat readiness of the army and navy, and the coherence of different units."
Russia's ministry of defence released a video showing a naval vessel firing missiles as part of the exercises, which were aimed to "repel the hypothetical aggressor and make a massive airstrike". The exercises come in the wake of Nato's decision on Wednesday (10 February) to establish a new force of up to 6,000 troops on permanent rotation between eastern European countries, including Bulgaria and Romania, which have Black Sea coasts.
Nato members have agreed on an "enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance", its secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced after a meeting in Brussels. "This will send a clear signal. Nato will respond as one to any aggression against any ally," Stoltenberg told reporters.
"Nato has already increased our presence in the Black Sea and we are following closely the developments in the Black Sea," Stoltenberg said."We have increased our naval presence, we also have Awacs surveillance planes surveilling and being present in Romania, Bulgaria and close to the Black Sea also in Turkey."
Russia's former Black Sea fleet commander Vladimir Komoyedov warned against a Nato military build-up in the region: "We have enough forces capable of monitoring the situation and passing decisions depending on the situation," Komoyedov told TASS news agency.
In recent years tensions between Russia and Nato have escalated to their highest point since the Cold War, following the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the downing of a Russian military plane by Nato member Turkey.